The Buffalo News
THE ART OF CRAFT
|WHEN: Through Dec. 15WHERE: Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State College, 1300 Elmwood Ave.
This innate aesthetic drive – the urge to make things beautiful – seems to be at the heart of what is commonly called craft. Of course, distinguishing between a master craftsman and your average microchip designer is much less perilous than attempting to establish a distinction between craft and “fine art.” The mere mention of this can rankle a fiber artist at 20 feet.
Don’t expect a resolution to this dilemma from the current exhibition, “Craft Art Western New York,” now at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. Juror Kenneth R. Trapp – curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum – has selected works from 43 craft artists in a vast range of media, styles and techniques that nudge the boundaries of both craft and art.
Some pieces are resolutely utilitarian, while others drift well into the domain of sculpture or visual art (complete with “serious art” titles). Some of the most interesting efforts lie intriguingly in between.
Jeremy Hatch, for instance, wades into the cool waters of conceptualism with two stunning works that challenge conventions of sculpture, craft and industrial design. Part of his archly titled “Ceramech Model #4” is a metallic porcelain form posing as a gleaming precision-tooled mechanical device. Ironically, much of its considerable complexity lies hidden within its external shell. Four ghostly wall-mounted CAT scans – complete with technical notations – reveal the form’s interior. The paradox of flawless craftsmanship concealed, then radiographically revealed, plumbs the very nature of craft itself.
Hatch isn’t alone in probing the interplay of form and function. Yeo-Jung Chung’s whimsically beautiful “Forms of Inquiry Between Milk Carton and Siphon,” are marvelously crafted ruminations on the familiar cardboard container. That they so elegantly transform this practical form into the antithesis of functional design provides much of their appeal.
Stephen Saracino’s towering baroque reliquary for his son’s baby teeth represents decorative functionality of a delightfully bizarre kind. The elaborately detailed silver edifice, ornamented with frolicking boars, escapes mere parody through impeccable craftsmanship.
Moving from the paradoxical to the earnest, Douglas R. Francis’ understated rustic wood table and Tom Bojanowski’s handsome arts and crafts style sandstone bench each allow the integrity of natural materials to do much of the aesthetic work. In contrast, the unyielding angularity of Taeyoul Ryu’s Bauhaus-inspired rocker (gratuitously titled “Four”), though certainly not cozy, is a visual delight.
In ceramics, Erin Jackson’s unapologetic stoneware vessels titled (no kidding) “Michael” and “Peter” employ bold flourishes to dramatic effect. Stephen Merritt’s massive art deco storage jar, Bill Stewart’s whimsically figurative “Sideshow” and Matthew SaGurney’s ceramic glaze paintings are all impressive in markedly different ways. Brett A. Coppins and Nancy Valle push clay to new sculptural heights – literally.
Not everyone aims as high. Some of the jewelry for instance, would look right at home in a good department store. One imposing clay piece might be mistaken for a Klingon prop from a “Star Trek” movie. Another, a Smurf-colored mannequin in an oversized headpiece, presumably aspires for high camp but misses.
Regardless, there’s plenty here to enjoy for art and craft lovers alike.
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